[Updated May 21, 2014, 5:00 p.m. EDT]
Tea party activists in Georgia and beyond had been spoiling for a chance to knock out Senator Chambliss, who is best known for his efforts to work across the aisle with Democrats to find middle ground on issues like curbing deficits and debt. Only 38 percent of likely voters in the GOP primary backed Chambliss, compared with 43 percent who favored a more conservative, unnamed candidate, according to a December poll, although in a hypothetical head-to-head race in which both candidates were named, Chambliss defeated all likely GOP rivals.
"Many people in the tea party movement here in Georgia felt Chambliss was tired and unwilling to fight the difficult battles to control government spending in Washington without increasing our nation’s tax burden," said Tea Party Express chairman Amy Kremer in a statement after Chambliss announced his decision not to run for reelection.
But the two leading tea party candidates, US Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, both known for provocative statements, fell short in Georgia's May 20 Republican primary. Businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston (R) of Georgia, both viewed as establishment Republicans, finished No. 1 and No. 2 and will face each other in a July 22 runoff. Mr. Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, won 30.6 percent of the vote; 11-term Congressman Kingston, known for his work on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, finished at 25.8 percent.
The GOP outcome marked a setback for Democrats, who had speculated that the crowded Republican primary would produce a candidate so far to the right as to be unacceptable to general election voters. With Chambliss out of the race, Georgia had been viewed as the No. 1 prospect for a Democratic takeover in the 2014 Senate campaign cycle. The demographics of the state are shifting, with more black and Hispanic voters as well as younger voters in the electorate and likely to support Democrats.
As expected, Democrats rallied behind Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D), a popular centrist and, until his vote against the Gulf War, a likely presidential contender. Ms. Nunn, a former CEO of President George H. W. Bush's Points of Light Foundation, is new to politics but recent polls had her either tied with or leading potential GOP opponents.